From Shell Shock to Shellac: The Great War, Blindness, and Britain's Talking Book Library.
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Britain's Talking Book Service began as a way of providing reading material to soldiers blinded during the First World War. This account traces the talking book's development from the initial experiments after the War to its debut and reception among blind soldiers and civilians in the 1930s. It has been put together using archives held by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (before its Royal Charter, the NIB) and Blind Veterans UK (formerly St. Dunstan's), the two organizations responsible for Britain's Talking Book Service. The essay's first section reconstructs the search for an alternative way of reading that would benefit people with vision impairments. The next part demonstrates the talking book's impact on the lives of people with disabilities, recovering the voices of blind readers left out of most histories of books, literacy, and reading practices in the twentieth century. The final section reconstructs a debate over the value of recorded books, showing that disputes over their legitimacy are as old as recorded books themselves. In sum, this essay confronts the central issue raised by the convergence of books, media, and disability in the War's aftermath: can a book talk?